Teenagers Find Joy in Their Own Beliefs

Meghan Freeman

Today’s teenagers embrace new trends, technologies, fashions, and other parts of this ever-changing world wholeheartedly, glad to bring in fresh ideas and do away with the old. Some teens, however, are glad that some things never change, and that religion is one of them. Through the ages, religion has guided people through the challenges of day-to-day life. Many students at Miramonte find comfort in their beliefs and the communities that surround their religions.

Senior Jared Rechnitz is one such student. Raised by Jewish parents, he has been going to temple since he was born. Instead of rebelling against his parents’ beliefs as many children do, Rechnitz made them his own.

“What I like about my temple is that it’s not specifically mandated what we should believe in,” said Rechnitz. “I can put all my trust in God with some things or I can step back and say, ‘No, this is me.’” Rechnitz regularly attends and contributes to Temple Isaiah’s youth group, LAFTY (Lafayette Area Federation of Temple Youth).

“LAFTY is cool because it’s all led by teens,” said Rechnitz. “I’m on the board as the Educational Programming Vice President. We meet about every other weekend to plan fun stuff. Pretty soon we’re going to have an Iron Chef competition, and then we do ski trips and things like that.”

Events like these attract more high schoolers, like sophomore Talia Citron, to participate in LAFTY.

“It’s really fun because there’s the religious and cultural aspect of it, but then also it’s a social thing.” said Citron. “You get to hang out with other friends than those who you see at school.”

Citron enjoys not only the teen community and fellowship, but also her relationship with the older members of the Temple.

“It’s like I have another support group with adult figures who help me,” said Citron. “They taught me my morals and give me advice. It’s just nice to have someone who I can talk to.”

Other students at Miramonte feel alone in their religion. Sophomore Arjun Johal is one of few students at school who practice Sikhism. But, what spiritual community he lacks at school, he finds at home.

“My whole family is Sikh,” said Johal. “My parents go the Gurdwara every week in El Sobrante. I don’t usually go, and I don’t follow all the rules that the strict Sikhs do, but I completely believe in all the things my religion says. I believe in reincarnation, and in one nonviolent god, the same god in all religions, and that he isn’t a being but a spiritual entity that is with you always.”

Johal regularly prays to Waheguru, the Sikh name used for god. He finds comfort in knowing that there is a bigger force in the world.

“I pray whenever I’m nervous or scared,” said Johal. “Even when I have a test that I’m worried about, I pray and it helps me.”

Christian freshman Sophie Fuller has a similar personal relationship with her God. She grew up in the church, just going through the motions to please her parents. As she grew older she realized how important her faith actually was, and decided to take her faith into her own hands.

“I used to turn my back on God,” said Fuller. “But around the beginning of middle school I felt God in my life every day and I saw how good he is. I know I need him in my life and I love being in that constant relationship with him.”

Fuller is currently in the confirmation process at her church, First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. During this program, freshmen meet weekly with older mentors in the church to discuss their faith and how to better serve their God.

“Going through this class makes me realize how much I want God to be a part of my life in the future,” said Fuller. “I don’t know exactly how, though.”

Fuller also acknowledges how hard it is to be a faithful Christian dealing with the temptations that all teenagers face.

“Sometimes I’ll hear people talking about how they had so much fun getting drunk and they make fun of me for not partying,” said Fuller. “And I do make stupid mistakes like anybody else, I just choose not to do those kinds of things. I know that in the end, my morals and values are more important than partying or being popular.”

Most students say that having faith in any religion helps them be a better person. Heidi Homma, a Buddhist sophomore, definitely agrees.

“Although it’s hard to always say the right things and make the right choices, Buddhism has helped me become a better person by interacting with other people,” said Homma. “This religion is very open to other religions and races. I can see others more positively.”

For Homma, becoming a better person isn’t merely an internal process. The improvements in character should be lived out in daily life. Homma’s type of Buddhism, called Shinnyo, encourages helping others in order to become enlightened.

“The three practices of life are gohoshi, kangi, and otasuke,” said Homma. “Gohoshi means volunteering, which is a symbol of cleaning our bodies and souls. Kangi means donations, losing the desire for materialistic things like money. Otasuke is helping others without selfish thoughts. Our actions can save other peoples’ lives.”

The Jewish community also believes in aiding others as a way to serve God.

“I think that teens act out their beliefs in Judaism through the social justice work that they do,” said Dan Lange, the youth director at Temple Isaiah. “We hold food drives, do work in our community, or raise money for specific action projects that need help. These things are often led by teens.”

Although at times these students face troubles in their faith, they always find support and comfort in their beliefs that inspire them to better themselves and the world around them.